by Patrice Lewis
[Originally published July 29, 2020.] It’s among the most dreaded news imaginable: You’ve been laid off from your job. In the last few months, this scenario has played out for untold millions of people. Suddenly your financial security is gone, and everything you’ve worked for has been snatched away.
When most people lose their jobs, they panic. There are bills to pay, a mortgage to maintain, car payments to make. How will they survive without their job? Frantically they update their résumé and commence the often-disheartening round of answering want ads or blasting out their credentials on the internet, begging someone – anyone – to employ them.
But there are better ways.
We’ve experienced that dreaded pink slip, so for nearly three decades my husband and I have taken an alternate view on income. Rather than putting all our eggs in one basket and pinning our financial strategy on a single income source, we’ve developed a number of lower-paying part-time gigs – in other words, multiple income streams.
I call this the “many irons in the fire” method of earning a living. The idea is if one iron disappears, you have multiple other irons still sizzling in the fire and won’t be left destitute. You can then concentrate on honing those other irons into larger producers, either until such time as you find another “primary” job, or decide to permanently shift into having multiple part-time jobs.
For almost 30 years, our primary income source has been a home woodcraft business. But we’ve supplemented that income with endless side gigs: freelance writing, news editing, managing blogs, selling farm products, writing ebooks, etc. Some of these gigs were temporary. Others were more hassle than they were worth (such as managing a business in a nearby town) and were soon dropped. Others have been fairly steady and dependable. Collectively, I call this a “freelance lifestyle.”
What kind of jobs?
This all sounds great, but the $64,000 question remains: What kind of jobs? What do you do to earn money?
Sorry, I can’t answer that for you. I have no idea of your talents, interests, education, skills, or work ethic. I won’t advise you on nebulous money-making opportunities involving stuffing envelopes or pyramid schemes.
But what I can tell you is this: Make money any way you can. We know one fellow who operates heavy machinery, flies helicopters, and raises bison. We know a woman who cleans houses, sells crafts, and substitute teaches. Yet another woman sells produce at farmer’s markets, babysits children for a working mother, and does desktop publishing projects for local businesses. Daisy has some other suggestions in this article.
Laying multiple income irons in the fire is a matter of harvesting any and all experience, interests, potential, or opportunities you’ve ever experienced. Seize any (legal, ethical) means to earn money, since you never know where it might lead. In our case, we give preference for jobs we can do from home. The internet has transformed the ability to exploit your skills without ever leaving the house. People have done everything from remote teaching (foreign languages? music?) to becoming an online travel agent to blog maintenance to moderating forums to operating ticket sales to freelance writing.
For a more hands-on approach, it’s again a matter of exploiting whatever skills or experience you’ve cultivated in the past. Have you waitressed? Fixed computers? Built crafts? Driven a truck? Tutored children? Babysat? Are you clever at organizing, baking, carpentry, welding, or painting? Seriously, all of these can be transformed into money-making opportunities.
But here’s the kicker: Usually these will not become full-time jobs. These gigs will usually be part-time work. Deal with it.
That’s the thing about many irons in the fire. Perhaps not many of these irons can supply a full-time income, but income from numerous irons can get pretty darned close – $500 here, $1000 there, and pretty soon you’re earning a decent collective paycheck.
It’s also nice to be your own boss. Sure you might have deadlines, sure you might have customers to please, but it sure beats working for someone you don’t like.
And – very importantly – a freelance lifestyle means you’re less vulnerable to the cancel culture. If your income is not tied with the need to keep your mouth shut and your head low lest you get fired by an intolerant employer, you’re freer to speak your mind about whatever concerns you.
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The benefit of side gigs
A surprising number of people don’t bother developing side gigs, which is unfortunate and short-sighted. Side gigs not only bring in supplemental income, but you never know what may develop into solid long-term potential. Some might turn out to be more trouble than they’re worth; others might become extraordinarily lucrative, and all will provide both income and experience.
The side gigs most likely to succeed are those that are reasonably recession-proof. This means people still need or want the product or service, no matter how tough the economy is.
Some examples of recession-proof businesses include: butchers, seed companies, food production (truck farming, garden seedlings), childcare, beauty care (hairdressing, etc.), repair services (everything from shoes to engines), etc. If you can develop a side gig providing something people need no matter what, you’ve got a toe-hold.
Dealing with financial insecurity
If you’re used to the unwavering security of a twice-a-month paycheck, then a gig lifestyle may take some getting used to. A lot of people don’t like the financial insecurity of part-time work or freelancing because they prefer the security of a well-paying, dependable job. Unfortunately, as millions have learned in the last few months, well-paying dependable jobs aren’t as secure as we like to think. They can disappear in a moment.
But there’s no question a freelance lifestyle means your income is seldom dependable. For this reason, it’s critical to scale back your spending. This can range from big (sell your expensive house with the huge mortgage payments) to the small (skip the daily latté). In a freelance lifestyle, it’s important to plug the leaks to keep your financial boat afloat. It’s also critical to avoid debt whenever possible.
A freelance lifestyle means being flexible in what you’re willing to do, and utilizing the broad range of talents you undoubtedly possess. You’d be surprised how far intangible qualities can go when it comes to picking up extra jobs, part-time or otherwise. A work ethic, showing up on time, honesty, dependability … these are assets everyone values. We have a neighbor who landed a superb job because he was (literally) the only applicant who passed the drug test.
Keep in mind that all part-time income is subject to taxes, but those taxes won’t be withheld automatically. You will have to declare all income on your taxes, and possibly file separate Schedule C forms when April 15 rolls around. I strongly urge you to always be honest and above-board with all part-time income. The hassle of filing and paying taxes is far better than the hassle of an audit and fines from the IRS.
It takes time
Very few endeavors become instant financial successes. Be patient and allow things to come to fruition. If you still have a full-time (or even part-time) outside job, don’t give it up on the touching and misplaced hope that your freelance income will be able to replace your steady job. Instead, just work on cultivating side gigs.
If you’ve lost your job in the economic downturn and are unable to find another, then you have nothing to lose. Throw yourself full-time into developing any and all side gigs you can find.
Given a choice, opt for side gigs that allow you to work from home. The more you can bring your income into the house, the more flexible you are to work anywhere, including in a more rural location away from urban chaos.
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What does the future hold?
Right now there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, and no one knows what the future will bring. Three tactics – multiple income streams, frugality, and paring down living expenses – will help carry you through the toughest times.
You can either earn more or spend less. We opted for the latter. In the face of what might turn out to be another Great Depression, spending less is also the most logical and sustainable choice.
Our freelance lifestyle wasn’t always easy or straightforward. We made some stupid financial mistakes in our younger days, but we also learned the art of frugality and kept our living expenses low. Even now, after nearly 30 years of living a freelance lifestyle, we still look for ways to pare down expenses.
What we’ve learned is this: It’s better to have ten income streams each paying $400 per month than a single income stream paying $4,000 per month. Losing one iron of the former is an annoyance. Losing the one single iron of the latter is devastating.
Don’t let your ego get in the way of developing income streams. Don’t be too proud to accept humble work. Remember, DoorDash is always hiring.
What about you?
Are you working toward multiple streams of income?
What gigs do you recommend for the current economy? How have you made extra money? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Patrice Lewis is pleased to announce the availability of the complete collection of 52 Country Living Series ebooklets, representing over 17 years of homesteading experience. Subjects include preparedness, gardening, frugality, rural skills, food preservation, and more.